New luxury entrants like Jeep are an interesting bunch and we are often left questioning what they plan to do to compete in an extraordinarily cut throat market like India. That’s not meant in a “what are they even doing?” way but more like “why have they stepped in to a market that is going to be rather difficult to crack?”
Nonetheless, having launched a couple of high-end luxury SUVs namely the Grand Cherokee and the Wrangler, Jeep has completed their 4x4 armoury (for now) with the crucial missing piece, a relatively affordable soft-roader. Meet the all-new 2017 Compass – a locally assembled Jeep that’s about to hit the showrooms soon.
Buyers of premium soft-roaders do tend to care about the way their ride looks which means the Compass ought to look good. It is, in fact, instantly recognizable as a Jeep with its traditional design cues like the seven-slot grille, squared wheel arches and lots of clearance. The Compass’ mimics some of the Cherokee’s design bits like the clamshell hood with a dual break line and centre bulge besides the sleek pair of headlights.
At the rear, the standout feature comes in the form of its LED taillights. Slim and rectangular in shape, the lamp design flows into the tailgate which heightens the sense of width. The other design highlight is the chrome strip that runs over the window line and flows around the car, differentiating the contrasting roof from the rest of the sheet metal.
All in all, the seven-slot grille, that bulging bonnet and the high stance have some real presence, giving the Compass a charming veneer to an otherwise straightforward albeit a well-proportioned design.
Like the exterior, the Compass’ interior is not too extravagant but it isn’t dull either. The dashboard’s design may seem flat at first but if you look closer there’s plenty going on. The trapezoidal center stack, again, is something we have seen in Jeeps previously. In the Compass, it houses a 7-inch display for Jeep’s UConnect infotainment system and further down, there’s a sturdy metal gear knob, terrain control dial and an electronic parking brake. The cabin feels extra premium and also relatively airier with the all-white leather seats although having such a light shade requires constant attention and care – our test car was less than a couple of thousand km old and had a number of scuffs and dirt marks on the seats.
Build quality and fit and finish of the Compass is quite good but it isn’t without its shortcomings. Other than the tacky gloss black panel surrounding the 7-inch display, there are noticeable dummy buttons on the steering wheel and the indicator stalks feel like they have come from FCA’s cheaper products. Also, the graining on the dash may seem like the hard, scratchy kind but it’s actually made up of soft touch plastics. The latter, along with the supple leather upholstery, lend a quality feel to the cabin. What also raise the comfort quotient in here are the large front seats which offer plenty of under thigh support and good side bolstering. The rear seat, meanwhile, is tailor made for the Indian market – the cushioning is just right and thanks to the high stance, there’s a great deal of headroom, too. Despite the seat base being made longer for the India-spec car, we feel it could do with a little more under thigh support. Nevertheless, the Compass makes for a great buy for even those looking to be driven around.
In terms of features and safety equipment, the Compass gets dual zone climate control, LED taillights, electrically retractable ORVMs, rear AC vents, a 7-inch infotainment screen with smartphone mirroring and a brilliant sounding 6-speaker audio system. As for safety, Jeep has included hill start assist, 6 airbags (on 4x4 trim), rollover mitigation system, adaptive brake lights and cornering lights.
Driving the Compass reminds us of Fiat’s expertise in diesel engine technology. The Compass, after all, is the first vehicle in India to feature Fiat’s 2-litre Multijet ll diesel engine developing 170bhp at 3,750rpm and 350Nm between 1,750-2,500rpm. First things first, Jeep has gone to great lengths to lessen NVH levels and improve the engine refinement and it shows right from the moment you press the starter button. The Compass is impressively refined at both idle and low speeds with hardly any diesel clatter. It’s certainly more refined than VW’s 2-litre unit in the Tiguan and as silent as the Hyundai Tucson.
The Compass suffers from turbo lag below 1,800rpm but once past it, it pulls rather hard all the way till 4,000rpm. Despite the strong mid-range punch, the surge of acceleration is fairly linear on boost – it accelerates fast enough to put a smile on your face without being overpowered. Likewise the 6-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use, with slick and reassuring shifts and a light clutch.
This baby Jeep has a rather sophisticated suspension setup. In fact, there’s fully independent suspension all around and what Jeep calls Frequency Sensitive Damping with variable damping rates based on road condition and driving style – basically it senses the amount of load and compression on the springs and adjusts the damping accordingly. The Compass, as it turns out, boasts an impressive blend of ride and handling, one that’s better than its arch rival – the Hyundai Tucson. Ride comfort in particular is its forte, with it being far more composed and absorbing than the fussy Tucson. The Jeep irons out small bumps and ruts remarkably well and while it isn’t as planted as the VW Tiguan at highway speeds, it’s never unsettled. We believe some of that absorbency is down to its Firestone all-weather tyres that, despite being an unknown name in India, offer good traction and compliance. While obviously it’s no high performance car, the Compass feels balanced through the corners and sits flatter than what was expected.
Being a Jeep, it only made sense for us to take the Compass through the unbeaten path to test out its off-roading capabilities. While it’s no Wrangler, the Compass is capable of dealing with steep climbs and medium-sized rocks. With four-wheel-drive lock and mud setting engaged, the little Jeep didn’t break a sweat even while going through some of the rough stuff including water wading, driving over wooden logs and encountering slushy fields.
Cars like the Jeep Compass leave us wondering why we do not have soft-roaders in record numbers. Extremely comfortable, versatile and efficient with on-road dynamics similar to a hatchback or a sedan, they make all kinds of sense for a lot of buyers. Jeep has nearly nailed the brief for this segment at the very least with the Compass – not only is their new product spacious and practical, its hugely capable both on-road and off it.
Jeep will launch the Compass in the next couple of months, with ex-showroom prices expected to range between Rs 20-25 lakh. At that price range, it will have the Hyundai Tucson to rival and while it’s not as refined or feature-rich as the Hyundai, the Jeep outdoes it in the ride and handling department and dare we say it, it’s better looking as well. A comparison test awaits.